Whincup pilots his way to his first championship


The Winner, Three Retirements and Two New Tracks in 2009

Team Vodafone pilot Jamie Whincup won his first V8 Supercar Championship on Saturday afternoon during the first of the three race format for the final round of the Series. However, all the celebrations went on hold until yesterday when he was able to lift the trophy in front of a packed crowd at Oran Park which also witnessed the curtain fall on the career of Holden driver Mark Skaife who was hanging up his helmet after a career spanning 21 years at the top of Australia's premier motor racing category.

A relaxed Mark Skaife.
Photo by John Maricic.

Also bowing out was Paul Morris who has never reached any great heights in the sport. Morris has just about driven everything on four wheels over his career and was once named the worst driver in the series. But "the Dude" doesn't worry about those sort of comments, he's not that type of person. He would rather get you back on the track, just like he did with Whincup during the final race. Asked if he was emotional about his retirement and knew you the answer before it came. He wasn't.

If anything Morris knew that it was time for him to step out of the seat and give one of the young guns a chance, after all he picked up the oldest driver in Russell Ingall last year and this turned the team around with a number of podium finishes this year behind the big budget teams of HRT and HSV.

With his commitments to the family business, motor racing and his position of the TEGA board, Morris found time to bring NASCAR drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Boris Said recently to Australia, with Said racing at Phillip Island and Bathurst this year. All he needs to do to please me is bring the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon here, arguably two of NASCAR's greatest, Johnson only weeks ago was grabbing his own "three-peat".

Yesterday also saw the Oran Park circuit farewell the V8 Supercar Championship for the last time, with the track remaining open during 2010 until the housing developers move in.

With this, V8 Supercars boss Tony Cochrane announced yesterday that they had secured the Phillip Island circuit for another 10 years and it would host the first of the endurance races of the season with Lawrence and Hanson again being the official sponsors.

Although Whincup has won three consecutive Bathurst trophies with team mate Craig Lowndes the writing was on the wall a couple of seasons ago when he moved to the number one Ford outfit. Last year saw him and Garth Tander battle it out with the Western Australian taking the spoils, but this year saw a more determined Whincup, who was out to prove that those Bathurst 1000 wins were no fluke, as some critics suggested that without Lowndes they may not have achieved the "three-peat".

Jamie Whincup out in front.
Photo by John Maricic.

The difference this year was his patience, knowing when to push hard or be conservative and take the points, rather than blow the chance of wiping out yourself or someone else wiping you out, and that was reflected in some of his performances last year where Whincup and Tander swapped the lead throughout the year.

Only once this year did it look like Whincup had thrown his opportunity away and this was during the final race at Phillip Island where he had a commanding lead in the wet and during the dying stages he ran wide and allowed Tander to take the lead. With only a handful of laps left Tander didn't look back and took the chequered flag. Ironically, this was Skaife's last career win, with the pair doubling up for the two endurance races of the season.

If anything, GT finished the season with the round win after capturing pole position on Saturday. The worst thing is that he only managed to keep the No. 1 on the side of the car for a single season, but that's motor racing in 2008. As Mark Skaife eluded to during the press conference, "V8 Supercars are so competitive and this is reflected in the different winners over the past couple of years".

It's now going to be a matter of getting use to seeing the No.1 on the Triple Eight Engineer Vodafone red Fords, particularly as we hit two new tracks with Townville in northern Queensland and the finale around the 2000 Sydney Olympic venue at Homebush in season 2009.